VIERA, Fla. - When I arrived at Space Coast Stadium early this afternoon, things were relatively quiet, which is how you'd expect them to be the day before pitchers and catchers are due to report to Nationals camp. Players arrived early to get their work in, and many were on their way out of the complex, perhaps to squeeze in a round of golf on a mild, sunny day.
In the calm early days of camp, though, it's easy to tell who's coming in with a mission. A number of players have arrived to Viera, Fla., early, and almost to a man, they've got something to prove this year.
Nyjer Morgan is here early, trying to shake a dreadful 2010 season and get back to being a catalyst at the top of the Nationals' lineup. Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa are also here, starting off a year where both young middle infielders will be counted on to form the backbone of the team's defense and extend the lineup. Relievers Drew Storen and Collin Balester are also in camp early; Storen is trying to assert himself as the full-time closer, while Balester is looking to build on a late-season surge and win a spot in the Nationals' crowded bullpen.
Jesus Flores and Chien-Ming Wang, both returning from shoulder injuries that kept them out all last year, are here as well. Flores says he's 100 percent, while Wang expects to start on the disabled list.
The two players are easily the two biggest producers in the Nationals' lineup, but their early presence in camp is important for other reasons. It sets a tone for the clubhouse, especially since neither player is required to be here for six more days. And for Werth, who signed a seven-year, $126 million deal with the tacit expectation he'd be one of the team's leaders, reporting early shows he's serious about that role. When a team's best players are also its hardest workers, things tend to fall in line more smoothly. The Nationals feel like they're in a better spot, leadership-wise, with their top-end players this year, and Werth's attitude is a big reason why.
It's easy to read too much into things in spring training, and reporters probably make too big a show of things that happen this early. But for the players who are here already, it's easy to see why they've shown up early.